Community members attend a candidates' forum Friday evening at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Community members attend a candidates' forum Friday evening at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Colorado candidates face off at forum

Oldham, Stewart dispute wisdom of teen court program

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Steamboat tv18, available to all Comcast cable subscribers in Steamboat Springs, will re-broadcast Friday's candidates' forum at 7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, beginning Oct. 20 and continuing through Nov. 3. The station also will air the forum at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays, beginning Oct. 26.

— State Senate candidates Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, and Steamboat Springs Democrat Ken Brenner offered ideas Friday to keep Colorado's economy stout in the face of a national recession.

White focused on a continued commitment to tourism, while Brenner embraced the New Energy Economy championed by Gov. Bill Ritter. With the country clamoring for energy independence, Brenner said state government should encourage the development of sustainable energy opportunities "to make Colorado the national leader in this New Energy Economy."

"I'm a real firm believer this is going to be the next dot-com opportunity for the state of Colorado," Brenner said.

Brenner said the state should sponsor foreclosure counseling and further regulation of mortgage brokers in the wake of the subprime mortgage fall that triggered the economic downturn.

"We definitely want : the responsible homeowners to have an opportunity to renegotiate (their mortgages) and stay in their homes," Brenner said.

White turned to his record, specifically regarding a 2006 bill that cemented a permanent source of tourism promotion funding for the state at about $20 million this year.

"I worked tirelessly to fund a dedicated funding source for tourism," White said.

White said the state receives about $6.25 in tax revenues from tourists for every dollar it spends as a result of the legislation. As he has done in his campaign, White noted his position on the Joint Budget Committee - one he expects to keep as a state senator - as an advantage over Brenner.

"If you live in Routt County, you're in the tourism business," White said. "I want to go back to the Joint Budget Committee to protect that. Without me there, we could lose it all."

Brenner and White are running for the Senate District 8 seat to replace term-limited Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs. District 8 includes Routt, Moffat, Jackson, Rio Blanco and parts of Eagle and Garfield counties. They joined other candidates, or candidates' representatives, at a forum hosted by the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, the Steamboat Pilot & Today and the local Democratic and Republican parties. About 150 people attended the Steamboat Springs Community Center event.

Brenner and White are political veterans, at the local and state level, respectively. Brenner said his concern about water issues are the No. 1 reason why he decided to run for state office. In his opening remarks, White rattled off a list of Routt County supporters in fields including business, health care and education.

The two candidates also disagreed on Amendment 58. Brenner supports it; White opposes it.

The amendment would increase the amount of state severance taxes paid by oil and gas companies and devote the increased earnings to college scholarships for state residents, wildlife habitat, renewable energy projects, transportation projects and water-treatment grants. It also would reduce the amount of severance tax collections that go to local governments affected by oil and gas development.

Whether energy-affected communities would see more or fewer dollars depends on whether the increase in severance tax collections is large enough to compensate for the percentage decrease. A study by Western Slope lobby Club 20 showed that in six of the past seven years, the communities would have received less under the Amendment 58 formula. A financial analysis in the 2008 State Ballot Information Book projects local governments would receive $2 million less from 2009 to 2012 if Amendment 58 passes.

Other races

- Candidates to replace retiring District Attorney Bonnie Roesink as the 14th Judicial District Attorney disagreed about the wisdom of instituting a "teen court" in the district.

"I do not agree with teen court," Republican Elizabeth Oldham said. "Teen court will not work in a small community. It doesn't make sense to have kids judging kids and then see them in class the next day."

Democratic candidate Tammy Stewart disagreed.

"Teen court does work," she said. "It invests children in their own justice system. Kids are harder on other kids than adult judges are."

- Candidates for the Colorado State Board of Education were most sharply divided about where the state's strapped education dollars should be focused.

"If we're going to look at where we have limited resources, then it needs to be put in the spot that gives us the biggest return on our investment," said Democrat Jill Brake, who believes dollars are better spent on early childhood education than on middle and high school programs. "We've lost them by then. We need to get them while they're young."

Republican Marcia Neal said it isn't wise to emphasize early childhood education when the effectiveness of doing so won't reveal itself for a decade.

"We can't wait and see," Neal said. "Most experts agree that our high schools and our middle schools are the most dysfunctional."

- Two political newcomers are vying for White's term-limited seat in House District 57.

Phippsburg Democrat Todd Hagenbuch said he would bring "youth, optimism and experience" to the state House. Randy Baumgardner, R-Grand County, said he is a man of integrity.

"If I tell you I'm going to do something," he said, "you can almost count on it."

- Routt County Republican Central Committee Chairman Vance Halvorson, speaking on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, said the former U.S. representative supports further oil and gas exploration until alternative energy sources become economically viable.

"Bob Schaffer is on your side," Halvorson said, "the side of the consumer."

Catherine Carson, chairwoman of the Routt County Democratic Party, described Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, as a "collaborator."

"Mark Udall is a leader in reaching across the political aisle," Carson said.

- Ron Carlton, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat, asked Routt County voters to "send a farmer back to Congress," and he said Salazar first decided to run for Congress because he "wanted to make certain the voices of rural America were being heard in Washington."

Delta County Commissioner Wayne Wolf, Salazar's Republican opponent, said he would take the skills he used to regenerate Delta County's economy to the U.S. House, which he said "seems to understand how to collapse an economy."

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